Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Deborah Whitehead

Second Advisor

Loriliai Biernacki

Third Advisor

Daniel Liston


This thesis brings together the academic worlds of religious studies and education and attempts to contextualize the problems inherent in the debate over the study of religion in American public schools. The goal of this thesis is to provide a contextualized view of the disparate conversations surrounding the issue of the study of religion in public schools by offering theories and methods from both disciplines of religious studies and education. Themes addressed herein include arguments for including the study of religion in public school curriculums, the challenge of overcoming the religion/secularism divide, the "insider/outsider" dilemma and the effects of religious "othering." Methods by which this might be accomplished are also included. These themes are explored through a look at the history of public schooling, the separation of church and state, and the rise of American secularism on one hand, and a look at the academic study of religion on the other. The work of education scholars Warren Nord and Charles Haynes provide the bulk of the educational theory, while religious studies scholar Ninian Smart offers much of the theory from within the field of religious studies. Three particularly important topics include Smart's informed empathy, world-view analysis, and bracketing. The discussion is rounded out with a variety of scholars from both fields, and ends by suggesting religious studies as an educational, civic, and democratic tool for overcoming religious "otherness" while allowing, and indeed, celebrating religious plurality and difference.